From today’s Mercury (with my comments below):
Drew Halfnight, Mercury staff
GUELPH — Council approved a 10 per cent increase to city water rates Monday evening, the second of four projected consecutive annual increases at that rate.
The vote came at the end of an occasionally tense, two-hour meeting, as Janet Laird, the city’s executive director of planning, engineering and environmental services, fielded questions from councillors about the 2011 water and waste water budgets worth a combined $456 million.
Coun. Gloria Kovach presented a motion to exclude two new staff positions from the budget. After her motion was voted down, Coun. Bob Bell chimed in with an amendment to have a different new staff position excluded.
When challenged by Maggie Laidlaw, who spoke in favour of the new hires, Bell answered he felt most people would find the rate increase “a little high.”
“I think we’re leading the pack with the 10 per cent increase,” he said, adding: “I only see a couple of places to trim.”
When pressed on the new staff positions added to this year’s budget, Laird raised the spectre of delayed inspections, overtime costs and the endangerment of the water supply.
Bell’s amendment was also voted down.
From March 31, increases to both water and waste water rates will add $71 to the average household’s hydro bill for a total of $781. By 2013, when the projected schedule of increases is finished, that number could reach $944, nearly twice what residents paid in 2005.
During her presentation, Laird showed a chart comparing the cost of water in different, comparably sized Ontario cities. Guelph was in the middle of the pack.
Laird defended the rate hikes, which she said would help the city meet provincial environmental standards, offsetting the continuing decline in water use and growing capital reserves to address looming infrastructure deficits.
One reason rates are rising, she added, is that water consumption is falling in Guelph even as the population increases.
Coun. Leanne Piper pointed out this presents a catch-22 where “when we conserve, we end up paying more,” to which Laird replied: “Yes, there’s a trade-off there for sure.”
Piper also aired concerns that Nestlé, which owns a permit to access groundwater south of the city, was somehow driving up costs for residents in Guelph. Laird said: “At this point in time, their drawdown is not affecting our wells,” though she did not provide specifics.
There has been little public outcry over the increases in Guelph since they were revealed last week.
By contrast, city council in North Bay, Ont., convened a public meeting this week after a six per cent water rate hike was proposed there. In St. Catharines last year, councillors staged a protest when faced with a 16 per cent regional hike.
Daphne Wainman Wood, president of the Old University Neighbourhood Association, said the organization was not taking a stand on the issue. “It’s not within our purview,” she said. “We actually have terms of reference, and it doesn’t fall within our terms of reference.”
Local water activist Norah Chaloner said modest rate increases for such a valuable resource are “inevitable.”
“As long as the rate hike is modest, and is going to go back into publicly delivered water. I think we’re going to have to support that,” she said, adding “those with the least” should be spared higher rates.
In asking the question during the debate about bulk water taking permits (Nestle) — I already knew the answer. I was in fact, attempting to refute the commonly held misconception that bulk water users are driving up residential rates by “not paying their fair share”. I have heard this comment many times from constituents, and wanted to set the record straight.
Nestle does not draw from the same well aquifer (they draw from the Mill Creek acquifer). In addition, it should be noted that other bulk water users within Guelph (industry) do pay their fair share of water rates, by the cubic metre, just like everyone else.
Re: Water Rates. Conservation is still the answer to lower bills. Residential users pay by the cubic metre and rates are set per cubic metre. Although fixed costs are included in the rates, and fixed costs are going up, there are still savings to be had. For more information on how to lower your water consumption, and thereby lower your water and wastewater bills…
Check out the City’s Water Conservation program at: http://guelph.ca/living.cfm?subCatID=1762&smocid=2338